Last Monday, November 19, 66 youth hockey players filed into Prudential Center to participate in the 3rd Annual Youth Hockey Shootout Challenge presented by RWJBarnabas Health. Of the 66 players, there were 33 pairs, a goalie and a skater, representing 33 different local youth hockey associations and rinks from New Jersey. The players were joined on the ice by Devils alumni Bruce Driver, Bryce Salvador, and Colin White, as well as NJ Devil, and the event was emceed by the Devils very own public-address announcer, Kevin Clark, giving the youth players an exclusive experience. The top two pairs would compete in a final shootout during the Devils home game against the Canadiens on Wednesday, November 21. The winning pair receives the ultimate prize - a trip to the 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend in San Jose, California, where they'll participate in the NHL All-Star Shootout Challenge against pairs from other NHL cities who hosted the same local event.
"The fun part for me is seeing so many different organizations all come together on Prudential Center's Main Ice for this event," Devils alumni Colin White said, as he was a part of the entire event. "It just shows how big hockey has grown in New Jersey. This event helps the Devils brand by having all these young players feel like an NHL player just like their heroes. It definitely lets them chase their dreams."
Monday, the pairs participated in a three-round, single elimination bracket-style shootout. If there was a tie after the three rounds, the competition would enter sudden death. The longest heat Monday was between the Union Thunder and New Jersey Rockets, which lasted nine rounds. When all was said and done, all participants received a Devils Gift Bag and were offered a complimentary ticket to Wednesday's game where they watched Jacob Sokol and Bryan Schwartz from New Jersey Stars take on Matthew Zocks and Andrew Downey from Devils Youth in the final round.
"What I think is different in the Hockey Shootout Challenge event is that this event truly embodies a competitive event in a fun filled atmosphere where the kids get a chance to interact with players from other teams," Illya Sokol, parent of Jacob, said about the shootout challenge.
As far as being a player on the ice during the shootout Monday, skater Matthew Zocks had some confidence when it came to the final Monday night round.
"As I took the puck in the third round of finals when I needed to score to keep us alive, I was determined to win," skater Matthew said from Devils Youth, "and I had confidence that Andrew would come up with the big save. I look forward to competing Wednesday night for the chance the win the trip to the NHL All Star Game."
During the first intermission Wednesday, the four players lined up in their respective places. Matthew would shoot on Bryan from the Stars, and Andrew would defend the net for Devils Youth against Jacob. In the end, Matthew and Andrew were the winners and will be heading to the NHL All-Star Weekend. The pair was joined at center ice after their victory by Bruce Driver, Colin White, and Dr. John Feldman of RWJBarnabas Health to congratulate them and wish them good luck in California.
"At first, I was nervous," Andrew said about being in net, "but then when I saw Matthew scoring some goals, I wasn't nervous anymore and started to feel more confident."
Although he may have been nervous, Andrew was able to defend all three shots he faced, and Matthew scored all three shots he took. They came off the ice victorious and very excited for their January trip to California.
"The winning team has the opportunity to represent the New Jersey Devils in the NHL's All-Star Weekend Shootout Challenge," Devils alumni Bruce Driver said, as he was on the ice with the players both Monday and Wednesday. "It will be an amazing experience. I'm sure many youth hockey teams will be keeping tabs on how they do."
Both Devils Youth players will be bringing their families along for their trip. They are hoping to take their skills on the road and be champions on the west coast.
Make sure to follow the Devils social media to stay up-to-date on all Devils news on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @NJDevils. Fans can catch coverage of the NHL All-Stars, including the All-Star Weekend Shootout Challenge in January, by following the Devils.